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Burundian refugees return home despite clashes

Burundian refugees return home despite clashes

Close to 900 Burundian refugees in Tanzania returned home with UNHCR last week. More are set to follow despite continued fighting in hotspots across the country.
8 April 2002
Refugees in Ngara are eager to return home to Burundi once security improves.

Refugees in Ngara are eager to return home to Burundi once security improves.

NGARA, Tanzania, April 8 (UNHCR) - Close to 900 Burundian refugees have returned home from Tanzania despite renewed fighting around the Burundian capital of Bujumbura.

A total of 884 refugees have already returned in three groups since March 28, most of them to settlements in northern Burundi. Around 500 more are expected to be repatriated weekly.

"They are tired after staying in camps for nine years, they want to go home," said Ivana Unluova, UNHCR's spokeswoman in Tanzania.

Last Thursday, the UN refugee agency held a two-day tripartite meeting with the governments of Tanzania and Burundi to discuss transport and reception plans for repatriated refugees.

It was agreed that UNHCR should only facilitate repatriation of refugees who originate from the northern provinces of Burundi, and not from the provinces of Ruyigi and Makamba, where insecurity is still rife. Fighting also intensified between the army and rebel Hutu forces around the capital on March 12.

UNHCR is maintaining its position that the current security situation in Burundi does not allow for a mass organised return of refugees, but has agreed to facilitate the transport of and provide reintegration assistance to those among the refugees who wish to return home, in spite of these security considerations.

So far, a total of over 50,000 refugees have signed up for voluntary repatriation.

"A ceasefire in Burundi would create the strongest pull factor for refugees currently in Tanzania," said UNHCR representative Chris Ache. "It's up to the governments of Burundi and Tanzania to create conducive conditions for a massive repatriation."

Tanzanian authorities have repeatedly complained that the refugees are a burden to their impoverished country and should be repatriated or resettled in another country.

More than 500,000 Burundians fled the country in 1993 after ethnic violence escalated into civil war. Close to 1 million Burundian refugees are currently living in northern Tanzania - 354,000 in UNHCR camps, some 300,000 scattered in villages living with relatives or friends, and 170,000 in old settlements not managed by UNHCR.

In 2001, some 27,000 Burundians returned home, of whom 2,700 were assisted by UNHCR.